Are shipping container homes truly a more affordable housing alternative, or is the cost just as high as traditional construction? 

Let's dive into the factors that affect the cost of building a shipping container home.

The Cost of Building a Shipping Container Home: What You Need to Know.

Container homes have become a trending choice for people looking to downsize, live sustainably, or create a unique vacation retreat. Yet, the cost of building a shipping container home can be shrouded in misinformation. This blog post aims to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the expenses involved.

Container Homes: Are They Cheaper?

One of the most common assumptions is that container homes are cheaper than traditional houses. However, the actual cost depends on various factors, with the location being critical. Container homes can be more affordable in areas with less regulation, low documentation requirements, and minimal inspections. On the other hand, regions with stricter laws, such as Southern California, may see container homes costing more per square foot than traditional stick-built homes.

Cost Per Square Foot

The cost per square foot for a container home varies by location. In rural areas with minimal oversight, it can range from $150 to $300 per square foot. This cost can rise to around $300-500 per square foot in highly regulated areas.

Material and Labor Costs

Material costs for container homes depend on the type and size of the container. For a high-end 20-foot container, you may need about $18,000 in materials. If you're working with a 40-foot container, the cost can be closer to $28,000. Note that the cost of materials has increased in recent years, with shipping containers becoming more expensive due to high demand.

Labor costs vary significantly based on the scope and design of your container home. For a 20-foot container, expect about 350 man-hours, which if you’re managing the project translates to around $15,000 in labor costs. A 40-foot, more complex container can incur labor costs of approximately $25,000-40,000. However, if you have construction experience and choose a DIY approach, labor costs can be reduced significantly.

Other Costs

Several additional expenses come into play when building a shipping container home. These include:

  1. Design and Planning: Costs associated with architectural and engineering plans range from $5,000 for smaller builds to $25,000 or more for complex projects.
  2. Site Preparation: If your land requires site work, foundation, and utility installation, costs can vary greatly, ranging from $15,000 to $80,000.

DIY or Hiring a Builder?

Whether to go DIY or hire a builder depends on your construction skills and experience. While DIY can save money, ensure that you have adequate knowledge or invest in resources to learn how to build a container home correctly. Alternatively, hiring an experienced builder, especially one familiar with container home construction, can save you from mistakes and ensure a higher-quality result.


Financing container homes can be challenging, especially for larger and permanent homes. Banks often require comparables, which are rare for container homes, making it difficult to secure traditional home loans. Personal loans or alternative financing options may work for smaller container homes or DIY projects.

Is It Worth It?

The value of building a shipping container home depends on your specific circumstances and goals. Container homes can be an excellent choice for downsizing, living more sustainably, or creating an affordable vacation retreat. Additionally, investors looking to capitalize on the Airbnb market may find these homes a valuable asset. However, carefully considering location, regulations, and costs is essential to determine whether a shipping container home aligns with your objectives.


Building a shipping container home is a unique and innovative approach to housing, but it has its challenges. The cost of constructing a container home varies significantly based on location, size, materials, and labor. Whether it's a cost-effective alternative or a worthwhile investment depends on your specific needs and circumstances. If you embark on this journey, educate yourself or work with experienced professionals to ensure a successful and cost-effective container home project.

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